MANCHESTER:  Thiago Alcantara made a big impression at the UEFA Euro Under-21 finals in Israel which only increased Manchester United’s determination to prize champions Spain’s captain away from Barcelona.

The Italian-born son of Brazil’s 1994 World Cup-winner Mazinho was voted best player by the European federation’s technical study group even before scoring a first-half hat-trick in the 4-2 final win over Italy.

Not only did Alcantara demonstrate all-pitch stamina and skill, he also showed a priceless ability to ‘ghost’ late into decisive goal-scoring positions deep in the penalty area.

That was not all. In the post-final interviews he displayed a command of both English and diplomacy which marked him out as just the sort of player worth a significant investment by a major club.

Michael Carrick is the only established central midfielder at Old Trafford and it is an open secret that new manager David Moyes is searching for serious reinforcements in this sector. Alcantara would be guaranteed regular first-team football in a pre-World Cup season.

Barcelona plea

Both Xavi and Gerard Pique have urged him, through media interviews, to stay with Barcelona. Coach Tito Vilanova has also told Alcantara the Spanish champions want him to stay and become a mainstay of their team at some stage in the future.

Hence the issue is the timing.

United have had their eyes on Alcantara since before he helped Spain win the 2011 UEFA under-21 title in Denmark. But they have had to wait while he tried to make his way at Nou Camp. Now, while Xavi continues to rule the roost, United are relying on Alcantara’s impatience for a personal Champions League breakthrough.

In addition to captaining Spainto the Under-21 triumph over Italy, Alcantara has also played twice for senior national team. But he made ‘only’ 15 starts in La Liga last season. Not only that. The 22-year-old currently earns around €35,000-a-week and United are ready to double that.

Meanwhile, United’s neighbours Manchester City face disappointment in their pursuit of Malaga winger Isco, another of Spain’s Euro Under-21 heroes.

City had hoped that Isco’s close relationship with new manager Manuel Pellegrini atMalagawould work in their favour. Chief executive Ferran Soriano and director of football Txiki Begiristain had already contacted Malaga during negotiations about Pellegrini’s release.

However, reports from Spain suggest that Isco has preferred to stay in La Liga with Carlo Ancelotti’s ‘new’ Real Madrid.